Nearly 7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in Africa with most countries starting campaigns rapidly by vaccinating high risk groups.
Countries have accessed vaccines through the COVAX Facility, bilateral deals and donations and altogether 38 African countries have received more than 25 million Covid- 19 vaccines and 30 have started vaccination campaigns.
Speaking during Thursday’s press conference held virtually on the roll out of Covid-19 vaccines in African countries, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said that although Africa received vaccines late and in limited quantities, a lot of ground has been covered in a short space of time.
“This is due to the continent’s vast experience in mass vaccination campaigns and the determination of its leaders and people to effectively curb Covid-19,” she said.
“Compared to countries in other regions that accessed vaccines much earlier, the initial rollout phase in some African countries has reached a far higher number of people,” she added.
She gave an example of Ghana which just two weeks after receiving COVAX-funded AstraZeneca vaccines, has administered more than 420,000 doses and covered over 60 percent of the targeted population in the first phase in the Greater Accra region – the hardest hit by the pandemic.
In the first nine days, it is estimated the country delivered doses to around 90 percent of health workers, in Morocco, more than 5.6 million vaccinations have taken place in the past seven weeks, while in Angola, vaccines have reached over 49,000 people, including more than 28 000 health workers in the past week.
To ensure the most impact, initial vaccine doses are being limited to priority population groups including health workers, older people and people with health conditions placing them at higher risk of severe Covid-19 illness.
While the rollout is going well, Moeti however said that there is an urgent need for more doses as Ghana, Rwanda and other countries are on the brink of running dry.
“Countries are clocking an impressive vaccination pace, but we must ensure this speed doesn’t slow down to a crawl,” said Dr Moeti saying that additional supplies are urgently required to narrow the gap between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.
Vaccinations are occurring as more than 4 million Covid-19 cases have now been reported on the African continent, with 43 000 new cases in the past week, and 108 000 lives lost.
In the past month, new cases have decreased by 41 percent compared with the previous month, but there is an upward trend in 12 countries including Kenya, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Guinea which is also dealing with an outbreak of Ebola.
Moeti noted with concern that a few countries in Africa have also halted or postponed their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, following the suspension of the vaccine by some countries in Europe.
This precautionary measure, she explained, is based on reports of rare blood coagulation disorders in people who had received the vaccine and the suspension is regarding one specific batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not been distributed to Africa.
“WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is carefully assessing the reports on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to gain full understanding and will communicate its findings,” Dr. Moeti said.
Based on what is currently known, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.
“I encourage countries to continue with their vaccination campaigns and not to pause as we are in a race against time. The more people are protected, the less likelihood of mutations producing more dangerous variants of the virus, endangering the whole world,” Moeti said.
“Finally, I was saddened to hear of the passing of His Excellency President of the United Republic of Tanzania, President John Magufuli, and convey my deepest condolences to his family. WHO stands ready to support the government and people of Tanzania on all priority health issues,” she said.
Through the COVAX initiative – which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with UNICEF more than 16 million doses have been delivered to 27 African countries.
by Wangari Ndirangu